181 ‘disease detectives’ tested positive for COVID after attending large CDC conference

News & Politics

The tally of attendees at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conference who tested positive for COVID after the event has risen to 181, the CDC said in a statement Friday.

“This outbreak dramatically illustrates that if the circumstances are right, this virus can really spread to a lot of people,” infectious disease doctor William Schaffner told the Washington Post.

Schaffner added that a colleague of his, like many others, had a “mild illness” but was “quite discomforted for several days.”

The conference, held in April at a hotel in Atlanta, was for Epidemic Intelligence Service officers and alumni, according to the Washington Post. EIS personnel are sometimes called “disease detectives” and are charged with identifying and fighting outbreaks.

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A rapid assessment team conducted a survey of 1,443 conference attendees from May 5-10. Among those who responded to the survey, 70% were not wearing masks; nearly all had received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, and none were hospitalized.

Among those who tested positive, 52% reported no known prior COVID infection, and 27% received antiviral medications.

The conference was held during a period of low COVID community levels, and masking was not recommended at the time, according to the CDC’s own guidance.

The study results showed the longer participants were at the conference and the larger the number of events in which attendees participated, the greater the likelihood they would test positive.

The CDC says several attendees notified conference organizers on the last day of the event that they had tested positive for the virus. EIS leaders reportedly made an announcement about the potential cases “and took action to reduce further spread connected with the conference and related events.”

The CDC worked with the Georgia Department of Health to “learn more about transmission that occurred and add to our understanding as we transition to the next phase of COVID-19 surveillance and response.”

The CDC says the results of its survey demonstrate the effectiveness of immunity from previous infection, antiviral treatments, and vaccines.

Another CDC global health meeting of 300-400 people is scheduled for the same Atlanta venue in June, the Washington Post reported, citing a CDC employee who spoke on condition of anonymity.

June conference attendees were advised to wear high-quality masks and carry COVID rapid tests with them, according to a “Know Before You Go” document acquired by the outlet.

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